Incarnational Living – What Does That Actually Mean?

by | Sep 7, 2011 | Church Leadership, Church Planting, Outreach and Evangelism

Much has been made lately of the phrase “living incarnationally.” The basic idea is to live as Jesus lived while he was on earth. Although a simple and accurate definition, it begs several important questions. How did Jesus actually live? What did he actually do? Which specific actions of his are we to imitate? In short, when we say we are to live incarnationally, what does that actually end up looking like in the real world?

What does incarnational mean?

These questions have some pretty obvious implications for those of us planting churches. So I undertook a study to look through the gospels with an eye toward what Jesus actually did during his time on earth. I wrote down the actions I saw Jesus taking and ended up with quite a list.

Several things surprised me. One was how pronounced Jesus’ emphasis was on the least of these—including the poor, the disabled, the uneducated, cultural or ethnic minorities, women, and social outcasts. He was constantly hanging out with these people. These are the people that he chose to heal.  He highlighted them, bringing them to the center of public attention. The good Samaritan, the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind beggar, Lazarus at the gate, the woman caught in adultery, the healing of the Roman Centurion’s son, the widow giving two coins, the lepers, the lame man trying to enter the healing waters, the gentile woman begging for crumbs from the table, the calling of tax collectors and fishermen as disciples.

Another surprise for me as I looked through the gospel accounts was some glaring omissions. This is not the way we would write the gospels in today’s church. Jesus didn’t say much or even model much behavior about church/temple attendance or religious duties. There was surprisingly little on swearing or sexual morality, and he said nothing at all about drinking, abortion or homosexuality. Jesus did talk about giving and serving, but those activities were mainly focused on those in need rather than on the church/temple. I’m not saying that these other issues don’t matter at all.  But apparently, they are hardly central to living as Jesus did.

If you’d like to read along on some of my analysis of what Jesus did focus on—how he did live as he was incarnate—you’re welcome to visit my blog at  How we interpret “incarnational living” has big implications for what kinds of churches we end up starting.

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